Basil O’Keefe, known by his friends and riders as “the best school bus driver in the world,” has retired after years of driving children to St Michael’s school in Corkery. Basil, one of the area’s most popular drivers, says he “was forced to retire because they said I was too old.”
“They” in this case is the West Carleton Separate School Board, and while Basil is not questioning the wisdom of the board, he was retested by the ministry of transport this year and had his bus licence renewed. He has had a test yearly to maintain his licence for the last 13 years.
Basil is 78 years old. He began driving buses after his retirement at 65 from the government. His wife Mary started driving a year earlier and they both decided to do the runs to defeat the boredom that had set in. Mary thinks she’ll only drive one more year, she says, because “ I don’t enjoy it like I used to when Basil was driving.”
The students who rode on Basil’s bus are upset that he no longer gets them to and from– and on the first day of classes this year, organized a petition to have Basil reinstated Mary says “ the kids just loved him.” And Basil says he never had a problem with discipline on his buses, ” I found everything funny with the kids,” he says. ‘I have wiped a lot of notes, dried a lot of tears, and looked up a lot of books. “
’According to an anonymous submission to the Gazette. Basil is famous for never getting stuck or losing his temper, “He was helped in his duties by a vast knowledge of every track and pothole in the Corkery area and by a clear recollection of the foolish antics of local parents and grandparents to the fifth generation.
Basil who drove for Carleton Bus Lines of Antrim, has many fond memories of the children he has transported over the years. He related the tale of a Friday afternoon kindergarten run a few years ago. My run finished at Marathon village and I looked back to see I had one too many kids.
I asked the link girl where she lived and she said ‘it was on top of a big hill.’ It appears the little girl lived on the Appleton road and normally was driven to school by her mother However, all her friends came to school by bus so she sneaked onto Basil’s bus for a ride. He took her back to St Michael’s to meet her mother but she didn’t want to get off.
How did Basil handle that situation? He smiles and simply says: “I took her home,”
The best summation of Basil’s bus driving career is offered by an anonymous writer: “Basil will be fondly remembered for his driving skill, his kind attention to kiddies with sick tummies or absent mummies and his astonishing ability to see fox, wolves, moose and ostriches where a whole busload of kids could only see junipers. His host of admirers can only regret his absence while wishing him the most enjoyable retirement.
With files from Ms Ennis, NOV 1985– Almonte Gazette